I definitely thought I had written something here so far in 2017 but it turns out my last post was 6 months ago! Wow, how time flies!
In those 6 months I’ve mostly just been working and training, trying my best to survive the Calgary winter. I got a break in February when I went to Cambodia for 2 weeks to do dental work for those less fortunate and who really need the help. It was my 7th trip with Kindness in Action and my first time to Asia. It is always such a rewarding experience. As much as we’re really helping (hopefully!) those people, I think we get more out of these trips than what we put in. I’m not going to lie, it was hard work and not exactly a vacation but it did help to have my birthday in there, celebrated in style in Phnom Penh, and to be with my really great friends.
As expected, I did zero training in Cambodia, but I did drink a lot of beer. And passionfruit mojitos. Probably enough beer and mojitos to last the rest of the year! Now that I’ve been training with Michelle and TriSutto and I’m back on the TrainingPeaks, it was really shocking to see how fast fitness is lost when there’s no training but lots of beer drinking. And I wouldn’t have it any other way! It was totally worth it.
The only problem is upon my return I was faced with the task of getting fit for this thing I had signed up for: The Belgian Waffle Ride (wafer).
In December 2016 I suddenly found myself registered for the wafer. Funny how that happens! Actually I know exactly how it happened. I can’t say no. And I especially can’t say no to an epic race adventure that involves something I’m really not good at, specifically riding off-road. There were, what seemed like, a bunch of Betty’s signing up and I got caught up in the excitement, but when push came to shove, there ended up being only two of us (read Alison’s blog here!) and Kristin (creator of Betty Designs) at the start line. Rob decided to tackle the full Waffle as did my friend/LA roommate James (and Kristin did the Waffle too! omg!)
Back for it’s 6th year, The Belgian Waffle Ride bills itself as “the most unique cycling event in the country” and is meant to be a homage to the one day Belgian spring classics. It is a road race but because north San Diego county is lacking in pave, the cobbles are substituted with off road dirt trails; basically single track mountain bike-style trails. This is my worst nightmare!
There are 2 distances; the full waffle is ~210km with ~60km of dirt sections, the wafer ~110km with ~40km of dirt. The stats for the race are always changing as the course changes every year, but my Garmin had a little over 5000ft ascent. The worst part is it ends with the the real treat of climbing Double Peak with 10km to go. The ride starts and finishes at the Lost Abbey Brewery so that sort of makes everything better.
This race is definitely a choose your own weapon (wisely) type of race. There were all sorts of bikes out there, including mountain bikes. The male winner rode a straight up road bike set up. I rode my Argon road bike. I am not as comfortable on my cx bike so I chose comfort first. The race recommends 28mm tires, tubeless if possible, but I could only fit 25mm tires on my road bike so that was that. The only thing I bought new for the race was Continental Gatorskins 25 tires. I didn’t think 28s would help me significantly more on the dirt anyway, I would still be going slow whether on 25 or 28s. Same water bottle cages. Same road bike gearing (compact + 11/28). Same stock wheels with rim brakes. I put my mtb pedals from my cx bike on and used my mtb shoes, because I knew I would be walking with my bike more than others.
I was not brave (or stupid?) enough to sign up for the full Waffle, given my lack of skills and confidence on dirt and in the end, it ended up being the perfect challenge for me. I was quite nervous leading up to this race which is a pretty unusual for me because I typically don’t get anxious before races. But honestly, I really wasn’t even sure I could make it through all the off-road sections.
Rather than go over all 110km in painstaking detail, I’ll just go over 25 highlights here!
- I forgot to buy CO2 cartridges for an off-road race on a road bike. Clearly my brain was trying to protect me from having to think too much about this race because I was nervous about it. Thankfully we were saved by my friend James lending us his spare cartridges. Thanks James!
- The pre-ride waffles were so good. Berry topping and whip cream. I put one in my jersey pocket for snacking on later.
- I started off with my Betty teammate Alison and her friends from Victoria. My race strategy was survive the off-road sections, just get through however I could, and then ride hard on the road. There’s a fairly long road section to start including the first KOM. Near the top of the climb I was feeling pretty good and especially on the climbs I didn’t want to slow down so I just went with it. But I ended up with a small gap on my friends, assuming they’d catch me later on since they all have mountain bike experience.
- The first big descent was on loose-ish gravel. Looking back, maybe the 25s did slow be down more than usual here because man, I was really snaily. It seems like most people, especially guys, didn’t slow down AT ALL! I was amazed as I was terrified and grasping my brakes as hard as I could.
- Back on the road, I’m not used to riding in a pack (I’m a triathlete after all!) and as I said, my plan was to push hard on the road. I was getting annoyed sitting at the back of a big pack of guys when I felt like I could be going faster, so I made my way up to the front. At some point, a couple guys rode up to me and told me I was towing 20 guys behind me! I looked back and sure enough, there they were. They were probably the smart ones conserving energy but I felt better being able to ride at the pace I wanted to.
- It was hot. Over 30c. Really hot. Things probably would have gone better had it not been so hot but it’s pretty much impossible to adjust to heat in a May race coming from Calgary.
- A lot/most of the dirt sections were single track, mountain bike-style trails, complete with mountain bikers out for a Sunday ride! I rode what I could and actually surprised myself by riding some uphill rocky sections that never in a million years did I think I’d be able to ride.
- I walked a lot of Sandy Bandy, the deep sand section. I really don’t like sand. But there was another girl doing the same as me, so we commiserated together.
- I had only one fall, but I was basically stopped so it wasn’t too bad. It was an uphill rocky section that got too steep and too rocky. I couldn’t get my leg down fast enough and fell into the bushes on the side of the trail. Luckily for me, no one was there to witness that embarrassment!
- I got about 100 compliments on my Betty Designs bar tape!
- No flats! I think it’s because I’m lighter and I ride slower off road than most. But in any case, Gatorskins FTW!
- It was really irritating riding on a bumpy dirt path right beside the nice paved road. But, we were Waffling, so what else could we expect?
- I held my shit together really well until about 92km when I was really sick of the dirt and really, really, really hot. I had a little bit of a moment but persevered.
- The last King of the Dirt section was pretty annoying. Upill. Railway ties to direct water off the trail. And I think the steepest Man, it was a hard section.
- There was one section for sure that was unrideable, even for the pros, so I really didn’t feel bad about having to hike my bike there! But really, I have no qualms about having to get off my bike. Doesn’t bother me!
- I unintentionally went off a “jump” on the end of a small foot bridge. I didn’t see the bridge coming and I definitely didn’t see the drop off the end. If I had seen it NO WAY would I have rode it! But before I knew it, I was flying through the air and landing with a thump, rubber side up. Rob said he even dismounted there! That one could have been a disaster!
- I was NOT the worst rider out there! There were people worse than me off-road! How is that even possible?!
- Part of the melt down at 92km was that my feet were sooooo sore. I’m not used to wearing my mtb shoes more than about 1 hr during cyclocross races so after 5 hours, my feet were screaming. The worst was coming off that last KOD section and then heading up towards the left onto Double Peak Rd. At that intersection there was a guy sitting on the side of the road recovering in the shade of a tree, before starting the big climb up. I wanted nothing more than to sit down, take my shoes off, and rub my feet. I looked and looked and looked for a suitable place to sit down and I couldn’t find one. So I just kept pedalling along, but wanting to stop so bad. It was pure and simple torture. I never ended up stopping to sit down!
- I took a whiskey shot from a guy in a thong bikini bottom with about 200m to go to the top of Double Peak. I think only 6 people stopped all day and I was the only girl. C’mon people! How can you ride past a whiskey shot?! It was hard to get going again but they gave me a push!
- Double Peak is a real bitch but I rode the whole thing.
- The worst part about Double Peak was getting to the top and thinking you get to enjoy the fast descent on the road, only to be directed to a gravel descent. I just about started crying. Everyone says that descent was easy – don’t listen to them. It wasn’t easy. Easy is bombing down the paved road. Slippery gravel is not easy!
- After that hellish dirt descent it was all paved to the finish. I knew I was getting close to 6 hours and I really wanted to try to sneak under so I pushed hard and passed a couple guys a couple miles from the finish.
- My total time was 5:56:03. According to my Garmin I had less than 3 min of stopped time for aid stations. So efficient! I also ended up 18/55 women in the Wafer! Top 20!! That totally blows my mind.
- The post-ride waffles, this time with ice cream, were even better than the ones in the morning!
- Finishers get a t-shirt and 2 pints of Lost Abbey beer to bring home. Best race swag ever!
Will I return to do the full Waffle? I’ve learned to never say never, but that would be a BIG undertaking. I don’t think I’m strong enough or confident enough off-road yet and honestly, when I finished my 110km, no way NO WAY could I have gone out for even another 1km, let alone 100km. I can definitely see me doing the Wafer again, it was just the right amount of suffering without being out of control and it was really difficult but not impossible. The full Waffle still seems impossible for me! But special thanks must go to coach Michelle at Trisutto because without her help in getting me stronger on the bike, I never would have finished!
I would highly recommend anyone to try the Belgian Waffle Ride if it interests you. It is truly an unique experience and for real, if I can do it, anyone can!